Salute to Dad

I was in my car the other day, off to some destination that seemed important at the time. While driving, I started to think about my father who drove fifty miles to and from work every day. That was his time, he once told me. On the way in, he mentally prepared for the day’s activities. On the drive home, the long miles gave him a chance to retreat from workplace stress. For a brief two years, he worked a mere ten minutes from home and, as I recall, he was quite miserable.

An intense man, dad carried an air of confidence about him. He seemed so sure of himself and, yet, he was not. He spoke, when he spoke, about his work projects and exuded the appearance of conviction and authority. He was a tool design engineer, one who drew the plans for complicated machines that created products we’ve seen and often used. He knew his trade, executed it well, and expected nothing less than perfection from co-workers.

Then there was his home life . . . the little time he spent at home. The hours of driving to and from work, the sales & service trips to customers’ plants, his attendance at  professional engineering society meetings, and his faithful participation in the Knights of Columbus meant he was rarely at home. I think he liked it that way. Raising children and negotiating the ups and downs of marriage appeared, at least to me, to make him uncomfortable. Something to be avoided if possible.

Yet, my father was an excellent parent. He led, not by words, but by his deeds. From him I learned that a job worth doing must be done right. When building a shelf, it must be level, not 1/16 of an inch off. For every problem there was an answer. I learned, by watching, that time and thought would bring an acceptable solution to the forefront. When the snow arrived, it must be fully removed from sidewalks; from the driveway, not so much. Perfection was a goal, but not necessary when running out of time.

There was much that I admired about my father. Some, I did not. Learning from him, I grew in confidence. Watching him, I sometimes knew I would not do the same. So, it might not be too hard to imagine my thoughts when, one morning in my adulthood, I looked in the mirror and saw my father. There he was; same round face, same eyes, same jaw set in something close to a grimace. “Oh, my God! I’ve become him.” This was neither good nor bad; merely a shock.

He was a good man. Complex in many ways, but good. He worked hard to provide for his family, cared deeply for his wife, led a worthy life and never lost sight of his relationship with The Almighty. In his waning years it was difficult to see this man slowly crumble, both physically and mentally. He lived to be 92. At the end, sitting in his chair, this strong confident male began to process and question seemingly every aspect of the life he had led. This was hard for me to watch.

Now, much too late, I say, “Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I’m glad you were my father. I’m proud to be your son.”

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